Numbered weight stacks, moveable seats and removable pins are increasingly taking a back seat to a decidedly low-tech sculpting apparatus: your body.
Machines were initially designed to “idiot-proof” exercises by preventing unwanted movements and forcing desired ones.
Even though machines can pretty useful as they target with precision the muscle you want to work they have one major problem: they restrict our movements they hide our imbalances. This means that you can sometimes become stronger and more “fit” without ever addressing underlying physical compensations: which is a bit like building a perfect house on a flawed foundation.
The issue is that if we donʼt address our limitations, we become vulnerable to overuse injuries and nagging aches and pains.
In contrast, the principal challenge and benefit of bodyweight exercises is that you canʼt be faked.
If you think about pushups, pull-ups and planks: you either have the necessary skills and strength to do them or you donʼt. There is no quick-fix work-around like those found on machines, such as lightening the load, changing the hand grip or adjusting the seat.
Gray Cook, a world-renowned physical therapist, call bodyweight exercises “self-limiting exercises.” Whether itʼs jumping rope, yoga or a single-leg squat, he says, “the limitations these exercises impose keep us honest and allow our weakest links to hold us back … as they should.” Pretty good line right?
Bodyweight training also improves the bodyʼs proprioception (as known as the “movement competence”), which is essentially the ability to move better and avoid injuries. It also betters your breathing, grip strength, total body strength, quickness, alignment, balance and control.
Itʼs no fluke that gymnasts, dancers and martial artists tend to have balanced and almostbodies.
When you train like this, you force your body to work in a balanced way (simultaneously stretching and strengthening), so your muscles develop accordingly. Plus, strengthening your body as a unit, not independent parts, ensures a perfectly proportioned shape.
This type of workout doesnʼt allow for instant pseudo-mastery of an exercise. It forces you to focus on and address your shortcomings—a process which can be both daunting and humbling. It requires concentration and, at least at first, the guidance of a trainer or instructor. But guess what? Itʼs the magic formula of the truly fit.
However, if you’re completely out of shape it’s better to start with a mix of bodyweight exercises and machines until you have enough strenght in your muscles to lift you up, pull you up, hold you up, etc.
The Iron You